Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 41(9):1857-1865, 2009. Paper abstract bibtex
There are very few studies on the effects of temporal changes in soil properties on ecosystem engineers in UK soils. This study addresses this lack by presenting earthworm diversity data from a six-year seasonality study comprising 72 monthly samples from the litter and soil of pasture woodland in the New Forest, southern England. These data were analysed in the context of soil moisture and soil temperature, key factors affecting earthworm abundance, and factors likely to be strongly affected by future climate change. The data for the whole period were analysed using non-parametric regression and an additive model used to separate within-year and between-year effects. Seasonal patterns are present for all the common species, generally with a maximum in March and a minimum in September. A majority of the five commonest species show a strong decline in abundance during the two extremely dry periods (2002-2003 and 2006). In sharp contrast, the same species showed a relative increase during the very wet summer and autumn of 2007. There was, however, no significant overall trend in either the climate data or the earthworm species data. The epigeic species, Dendrobaena octaedra, showed the largest decline in the driest months which caused a crash to the point where there were no adults sampled during the four dry summer months of 2003. A second congeneric species, Dendrobaena attemsi, also epigeic, appears to have invaded the woodland during the six year period and is increasing rapidly in abundance. This may indicate the start of a shift in the distribution of the two species, as D. octaedra generally has a northern European distribution and is frost-tolerant, while D. attemsi has a southern European distribution and is more drought-tolerant. In contrast, the very wet summer of 2007 seems to have damped the usual periodic seasonal oscillations in earthworm numbers. Endogeic worm species do not show the D. octaedra seasonal pattern as obviously, probably because these species are able to move more freely through the soil and because they are able to aestivate. These changes are likely to be due to a combination of human movement of earthworms (e.g. D. attemsi) and variations in local climate. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.